What is winter solstice, what is the science behind solstices, and what are winter solstice traditions? Our 13 educational theme lessons, STEM learning, resources, printables and activities help teach and celebrate the solstice for kids!
What Is Winter Solstice?
Meaning of Winter Solstice
Winter solstice, also called midwinter, occurs when the North Pole is at the maximum tilt away from the sun which makes days shorter and temperatures colder. Once the winter solstice occurs, days gradually start to get longer again and nights start to get shorter.
The winter solstice marks the longest and darkest day of the year and is also referred to as Dark Day.
While the Northern Hemisphere is experiencing winter solstice, the Southern Hemisphere is experiencing summer solstice—the longest period of daylight in the year.
Winter solstice is often said to be the first day of winter, even if temperatures have already been cold and wintery. However, because the date varies, winter solstice and the first day of winter may occur on different dates.
Historically, events like solstices were used by people to mark different time periods like:
- Planting of crops
- Monitoring food reserves for the winter (or, the “famine months”) to avoid starvation
- Actions of animals (like mating seasons) and butchering seasons
Winter solstice is also called: Midwinter, Yule, the Longest Night, Jol, Hiemal Solstice, Hibernal Solstice
When Is Winter Solstice?
The winter solstice date occurs around December 21st.
Winter Solstice 2019 is Saturday, December 21, 2019 at 11:19 p.m.
How long is the winter solstice?
So, how long is the shortest day of the year?
The winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere is less than 12 hours of day time.
How much longer do days get after the winter solstice?
The days gradually start to get longer after winter solstice, all the way to summer solstice, or when the longest day of the year occurs.
Who celebrates winter solstice?
Many different cultures celebrate winter solstice.
Because the days start to get longer after winter solstice, it is often celebrated as a time of rebirth.
What religion celebrates winter solstice?
Winter solstice is often called a pagan celebration, but it is celebrated and honored by many different people with many different belief systems.
Early on, because following changing seasons was such an important part of survival, some cultures worshipped gods (like the sun).
The Norsemen of Northern Europe saw the sun as a wheel that changed the seasons.
It was from the word for this wheel, houl, that the word yule is thought to have come.
At mid-winter the Norsemen lit bonfires, told stories and drank sweet ale.
Winter Solstice Traditions Around the World
When trying to understand what is winter solstice, you have to look at the traditions.
A winter solstice celebration and rituals for winter solstice vary based on different cultures.
Here are some examples of winter solstice traditions around the world:
Winter Solstice in Japan
In Japan, winter solstice is called tōji and celebrates harmony and balance.
During winter solstice in Japan, it is tradition to:
- Take a hot bath with yuzu, a citrus fruit used for its cleansing and healing.
- Eat kabocha squash and “auspicious” vegetables, or those thought to bring success.
- G0 to a winter solstice festival like Toji Matsuri or Tojisai, where there is a bonfire and individuals pray for the cleansing of their soul and health in the upcoming year.
Winter Solstice Traditions in England
You may have already heard about the traditions in England, because Winter Solstice at Stonehenge is known worldwide.
Many people gather at Stonehenge “the day after the longest night” (or the day after solstice) at dawn to watch the sun rising through the stones.
Although we’re not sure exactly why Stonehenge was built, some research suggests that winter solstice festivals occurred there.
Winter Solstice Traditions in China
China’s winter solstice tradition is thousands of years old. It marks the end of harvest season and centers around family gatherings.
During the gathering, traditional tang yuan, or rice balls, are eaten.
Just like Japan, the Chinese winter solstice also focuses on yin and yang, or balancing darkness and light.
Winter Solstice Traditions in Guatemala
In some parts of Guatemala, the winter solstice is a mix of Catholic traditions and Mayan rituals and last for the week leading up to winter solstice.
There are parades with brightly colored masks and costumes, as well as fireworks and music.
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Winter Solstice Traditions in Arizona
In Arizona, Indigenous Hopi celebrate winter solstice as part of kachina or katsina.
The Soyal ceremony is held to bring the sun back from its “winter slumber” using traditional, ritual dances, prayer sticks, and kachina dolls.
The ceremony also includes:
- Prayers for the upcoming year.
- Singing and dancing.
- Gifts for the children.
Many different winter solstice traditions were adapted and are used today for religious and secular Christmas traditions like the Christmas tree, wreath, and Yule log.
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Winter solstice: how to celebrate?
If you want to celebrate winter solstice with your family, focus on spending family time together.
Here are some ideas for your winter solstice celebration:
- Light candles.
- Make and share a family meal, especially recipes passed down from ancestors.
- Pray for health in the new year.
- Have everyone tell what they appreciate about nature.
- Have a bonfire or a fire in the fireplace and enjoy hot chocolate.
- Spread birdseed or make an easy DIY bird feeder in order to support the birds during winter.
- Exchange gifts.
13 Winter Solstice Lesson Plans and Activities
Read books related to winter solstice:
Hope you enjoyed learning what is winter solstice. If you have tips on how you celebrate, leave them in the comments so we can add them to our list!